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Help wanted: Will the labour shortage impact Trail businesses?

For insight, the Trail Times went to job market experts at The Skills Centre
Workers poured the foundation this week as construction rolls along on the Dairy Queen Grill and Chill Restaurant coming soon to downtown Trail. Business owners at BJT Properties say the new build represents a $2.5M investment, 20 full time jobs, and 25 part-time jobs. Photo: Jim Bailey

With two new businesses opening on the city’s main drag this year — a 7-Eleven gas bar and car wash and Dairy Queen Restaurant — locals may be wondering if there will be an adequate work force to keep these enterprises running smoothly and uninterrupted.

After all, across the province a labour shortage is present or looming as British Columbia relaxes COVID-19 restrictions, leaving businesses scrambling to hire in what was already a tight labour market.

So what about Trail?

For insight about the labour landscape, the Trail Times went to job market experts at The Skills Centre, located in downtown Trail.

“We don’t have data to support this, but anecdotally local employers are struggling to fill these jobs,” began Jaime Malcolm, programs manager for the Skills Centre. “The trend across the province … is that after the pandemic, people began to re-evaluate what they want out of their work. These frontline, minimum wage service positions are often undesirable to workers due to pay, hours, and risk as frontline, public-facing employees,” she said.

“We are all facing the mental health fallout from the pandemic as we enter our third year, and workers are burnt out and rethinking the meaning of work as it relates to the bigger picture of their lives.”

Malcolm points to the BC Labour Market Report (2021 – 2031) which shows that there will be over one million job openings between 2021 and 2031 and young people will fill 48 per cent of those jobs each year over the next 10 years.

Photo: Sheri Regnier
Photo: Sheri Regnier

“We know that young adults are looking for a variety of factors in their work including flexibility around how, when, and where they work,” Malcolm explained. “Workers who were laid off due to COVID-19 are returning to work to find that things have changed in terms of both procedures and atmosphere in the workplace. Workers have had time to step back and ask themselves what is important to them,” she said.

“What is rare about this is that so many people are re-evaluating at the same time, because of the pandemic.”

According to the latest job numbers from Statistics Canada, in terms of labour market recovery, B.C. has seen unemployment numbers that are lower than before the pandemic for the first time in two years.

Read more: Greater Trail Skills Centre achieves international certification

Although that is good news, Malcolm says there are gaps in the over 55 demographic as well as in the 15 to 24 age range. These groups both have significantly higher unemployment rates and have had higher rates throughout the pandemic.

This could mean that those who lost their jobs during the pandemic may not be looking to return to the workforce for a variety of reasons.

But Malcolm says there are ways for employers to draw back workers, starting with making jobs more attractive by paying a “living wage” or higher.

The living wage in Trail is presently calculated at $18.15 per hour. Comparatively, the minimum wage in B.C. will increase to $15.65 per hour on June 1.

“Employers can also offer attractive benefit packages that include access to professional development and training and advancement opportunities,” Malcolm continued. “Workers, especially young adults, are looking for elements in their work that employers may not consider, such as feeling valued and supported by their manager and organization, a sense of belonging, and acknowledgment of the challenges and traumas brought on by the pandemic.”

Employers might consider investing in equity, diversity, and inclusion training for themselves and their existing staff as this can increase their ability to create a culture that encourages a sense of belonging for all, she adds.

“Finally, employers should make sure they are considering hiring workers over the age of 55 as there are people in that demographic who are seeking work and have a great deal to offer.”

Alia Locken, research officer for the Skills Centre, provided further insight.

RBC Economics released a preview in early April, called “Forward Guidance: Our Weekly Preview - RBC Thought Leadership,” touching on the continued high job vacancy rates particularly in the hospitality sector where employment rates continue to be well below pre-pandemic levels, Locken began.

“There is a heightened pressure on wages predicted which will prompt them to rise in order for employers to be able to compete for candidates from an already reduced pool,” she explained.

“We can likely conclude this will be an increasingly pressurized situation for employers to recruit/retain employees in the hospitality sector as well as closely aligning sectors (such as similar working environments, pay, etc). In addition to what Jaime noted, I would highly suspect this topic is already and will continue to be a key factor affecting recruitment and retention in our region as well.”

Statistics Canada makes mention in its Winter 2022 Economic and Social Report on recent development in the Canadian economy that in the first quarter (Q1) of 2022, businesses reported anticipating increased obstacles in recruiting skilled employees. The report also shows a shortage of labour force, or 37 per cent in Q1 2022 up from 32.7 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2021.

Locken notes that in this region, the unemployment rate continues to trend down sitting at 5.5 per cent in Feb 2022, which is down from 6.4 per cent in January 2022 and significantly lower than 6.9 per cent in February 2021.

“(This is happening) even as we observe jobs that were once highly sought after — sit vacant and unfilled,” she said.

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Sheri Regnier

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